WASHINGTON — Due to the pandemic, the first-year anniversary of the Space Force won’t be one big celebration on Dec. 20.

“We’re kind of like the Queen of England. We have our actual birthday, and we have our observed birthday,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting, commander of the Space Force’s Space Operations Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.

The actual birthday is Dec. 20, the day a year ago when President Donald Trump signed the legislation that created the U.S. Space Force as the sixth branch of the U.S. armed forces.

Given tight restrictions on travel and gatherings, leaders last Friday hosted a virtual Space Force birthday video call with troops deployed in Asia, Europe and Africa, Whiting said Dec. 14 during an online talk hosted by the Space Force Association. 

Reflecting on the first year of the Space Force, Whiting said the service has moved “faster than expected.” 

The Space Force has stood up its headquarters offices at the Pentagon. In August it published its first doctrine document. In October it established the Space Operations Command in Colorado as its first field command responsible for training and preparing operators who will fly satellites, monitor space traffic, track missile launches and watch for potential threats to U.S. spacecraft, among other tasks. 

Two more commands — the Space Systems Command and the Space Training and Readiness Command — will be brought to fruition in 2021. 

Whiting said there is still work to do in educating the public on what the Space Force does and why space matters to national security and everyday activities. 

“We need the American people to understand what space brings to them,” he said. “That’s a conversation we need to continue to have … on the importance of ensuring the United States continues to have access to space when and where we need it, for whatever purpose we need it.”

Whiting said the Space Force wants to inspire young people to pursue technical degrees that could lead to careers in space. “And I think it will open their eyes to the reason why we created these defense structures.”

It will take time for the Space Force to define its culture and practices as a separate military service. One thing that will make the Space Force stand apart is its small size and technically skilled workforce, said Whiting. 

Its small size will give the Space Force more flexibility in recruiting and hiring, said Whiting. The expectation is that the space service will have a larger percentage of women, for example, compared to the larger services. “Our recruiting potentially could look more like headhunting,” he said. The focus will be on quality not just on numbers of recruits.

Whiting said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond in his recent “command guidance” laid out a vision for a disruptive service that is focused on innovation and empowers young people to make decisions. 

The current generation of general officers like Whiting grew up in a “risk averse” culture where mistakes aren’t tolerated. The intent is to change that culture, he said. “Young people have to believe us when we say this.” 

Is the Space Force going to be tolerant of risk taking? Whiting said it should. “If the overall mission hasn’t been impacted, let’s move forward, let’s not take people to the woodshed.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...